Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sidewalk Special Jury Prize

Glory took home the Special Jury Prize and the fabulous, debaucherous, brilliantly programmed Sidewalk Film Festival. THANK YOU SIDEWALK!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Upcoming Screenings

Sidewalk Moving Pictures Film Festival - Birmingham, Alabama
Sept. 28 - Carver Theater - 11am

Edmonton International Film Festival
Sept. 29 - Metro Cinema - 9:15pm

Woodstock Film Festival
Oct. 4 Woodstock Community Center - 11:30am
Oct. 5 Woodstock Community Center - 3:30pm

POP Montreal
Oct. 5 Cinema du Parc - 9pm

New Orleans Film Festival
Oct. 13 - CAC - 5:30pm

Hamptons International Film Festival
Oct. 17 - East Hampton UA6 - 7pm
Oct. 18 - East Hampton UA6 - 7pm

Olympia Film Festival
Nov. 8 - Capitol Theater - 2pm

Friday, September 19, 2008

BEST SHORT FILM - CinedaysM in Skopje Macedonia

Glory at Sea conquers in the motherland of Viktor Jakovleski


Oxford American - The Most Scenic Disaster

Post-Katrina cinema pours out of New Orleans.

New Orleans has always been among the most photogenic of places. A beauty on par with Paris, New York, and the country of India, the city's strange allure goes beyond wrought iron, hanging moss, and the wet sheen given to a lively palette by that muggy climate. But whereas New York had Woody Allen, India Jean Renoir and Satyajit Ray, and Paris the Poetic Realists of the thirties (as well as the what-have-yous of every decade since), pre-Katrina New Orleans maintained a cinematic mystery only occasionally penetrated by cameras. That is, until Les Blank and his crack team of ethnographic documentarians lifted the curtain. Beginning with his work on Easy Rider and on through Always for Pleasure and J’ai été au bal, Blank captured the color and sound of New Orleans like none before and revealed a secret truth about New Orleans that opened the cinematic floodgates. The city has a face with no bad side, a visage that's mystifying from all angles.

Give that face a black eye, an urgent fragility, a tragedy on the scale of Katrina—the pull only grows stronger. Filmmakers from across the country drew a bead on the most scenic disaster to hit our shores, and the result is a cinema of anger and indictment and senselessness but also beauty and humanity and even hope. Spike Lee, in a heroic feat equal to those of impromptu WWII documentarians like John Ford and Frank Capra, released his epic When the Levees Broke just under a year after the hurricane made landfall. It's Emergency Cinema, a First-Response Film. I daresay no other filmmaker could have accomplished the same depth and scope in so short a time, and also that Lee's never made a more important film. Three years later and at their own mortal pace, other filmmakers, working in both fiction and nonfiction formats, have likewise trained their talents on the aftermath of Katrina.

Countless motion pictures bob in the wake of this disaster, but future generations will likely find in the seven astonishing films featured here the most complete and useful records of that same harrowing story.



Glory at Sea departs radically from the everyday. Director Benh Zeitlin's apocalyptic and lyrical tale of rebirth after the flood, the film begins underwater, where the dead stay. A little girl narrates from beyond her watery grave, telling the story of a man only half-dead—"his eyes were living”—who has been pulled away from his dead loved one. Life under water is static. Down there the storm "didn't sound like nothing." It's back on the shore—where he's at last washed up, where life happens—that the storm itself still lives on. The people had retreated into alcohol and religion until the man showed up. When he begins building a boat out of the debris, the people rush to help, ignited by hope. They carry along treasures of their past life. Where that boat takes them isn't half so important as the unforgettable images that get them there. Now on sale through the Court 13 website and soon to be available on the McSweeney's offshoot DVD magazine Wholphin, Glory at Sea is a vision you shouldn't dare miss.

New York Times - The Angry Flood and the Stories in Its Wake

The Angry Flood and the Stories in Its Wake
Published: August 15, 2008

It did not help the emerging genre of Hurricane Katrina cinema that the first responder appeared in many ways to have the last word. When Spike Lee’s documentary “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” had its premiere on HBO in August 2006, just a year after the hurricane landed, it had the authority of a definitive history. It was filled with convulsive sorrow and concentrated fury, and it made clear that Katrina was not just a natural disaster but also a moral and political one.

Relatively few Katrina movies have reached the screen since then. Which is not to say that relatively few have been made. There is by now a rich, although unheralded subgenre of independent films — shorts and features, ranging from avant-garde tone poem to vérité docudrama — dealing with Katrina and its aftermath.


Standing apart from the other Katrina movies, Benh Zeitlin’s “Glory at Sea,” a 25-minute film that screened at South by Southwest, displaces the tragedy to the realm of myth even as it evokes the celebratory rituals of New Orleans as it used to be. In this exuberant fantasy, a ragtag band of storm survivors build a boat from materials found on the streets — car parts, a bed, a bathtub — and set sail in the hopes of reuniting with their loved ones at the bottom of the ocean.

Mr. Zeitlin said the giddy communal spirit of the story carried over into the production. “A community really did form around the excitement and madness of building a boat out of Katrina trash and sailing it out into Lake Pontchartrain,” he said.

“Glory at Sea” derives a special poignancy from its site-specific particulars, but in its folkloric expansiveness, the film also transcends the realities of Katrina. “It’s about how we can respond to tragedy with love, and hope, and total insanity,” Mr. Zeitlin said. “And that emotion, I hope, translates universally.”

25 New Faces of Independent Film: Benh Zeitlin

Benh Zeitlin

A true original, Benh Zeitlin‘s 27-minute short film Glory at Sea rocked audiences at this year‘s SXSW Film and Music Conference. Sharing short film prizes with John Magary‘s The Second Line and Andrew T. Betzer‘s Small Apartment, Glory at Sea has instant classic written all over it. Produced by the Court 13 collective, which counts Sundance (Ray Tintori) and National Board of Review (Dan Janvey) winners among its members, Zeitlin‘s intimate yet epic look at a ragtag group of heartbroken refugees, ever searching for their lost loved ones in a post-Katrina, postapocalyptic New Orleans of the future, is both funny and graceful, touching and altogether strange. Meticulously art directed and photographed, it retains an improvisational looseness and wanderlust, both in its style and its narrative, which verges on genius. What could have inspired such a singular work?

“The spark was an image of naked Greek men catapulting out of the ocean in a symphonic hairy porpoise-inspired resurrection finale that settled on an island paradise of obese naked love, which, of course, has almost nothing to do with the finished film,” said Zeitlin, who is still recovering from a broken hip and pelvis suffered in a car crash as he was driving to Austin for the film‘s SXSW premiere. “The script was written in the middle of an absolute spree, in an hour, then immediately sent to The Rooftop Filmmakers‘ Fund and it wasn‘t until I got the grant that I realized I was actually going to make it.”

Zeitlin, who has worked with his editor and camera operator Crockett Doob since playing Superman in Doob‘s Batman: The Movie at age 6, scouted Europe for locations before settling on New Orleans. “I met the people who ended up acting in the film, who brought with them a force of communal tenacity and fatalistic passion that shifted the focus of the film from just wild surrealistic bombast to something that‘s more human,” he explains. “Something that‘s about how people can respond to senseless tragedy rebelliously with hope and love and total insanity.”

An admitted football junkie, how does Zeitlin plan to follow up the veritable Hail Mary pass that is Glory at Sea? “I‘m heading back to New Orleans to develop two guerilla features about the end of it all,” he says. “The first is a comedy about a 10-year-old girl in Georgia preparing for orphanhood in the wild as her father‘s cancer and a mythological Southern apocalypse descend on her world. The other takes place in 90 minutes of real time aboard a boat led by a maniac who has acquired all the ingredients for a new civilization but has gotten stranded in the middle of the Arctic ocean. It‘s tentatively titled Santa Maria.” — Brandon Harris

Contact: benh‘àt’court13.com

SpoutBlog - Mediadiet: Benh Zeitlin

Benh Zeitlin of GLORY AT SEA: The Media Diet
By Brandon Harris

2008 has proven to be a year of many ironies for filmmaker Benh Zeitlin, some sweet, others sour. His film, the visionary SXSW shorts winner Glory at Sea, is a sprawling post-Katrina, post-Apocalyptic New Orleans epic about a roving band of vagabonds and their child companions, all searching for their things or people they’ve lost within the watery gulf. The film bowed just days after Zeitlin was nearly killed in a horrible car accident while on his way to Austin for its premiere. While recovering, a small cult has built around the film and Zeitlin’s profile has only continued to gain steam, culminating last month when he was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces in Independent Film. He’s a true blue cinephile, with taste that ranges from the esoteric to the height of 80’s Hollywood trash (we’ll forgive him for not digging Antonioni’s masterful The Passenger).

We caught up with Benh to discuss the inability of contemporary movies to depict dynamic female characters, his obsession with filmmaking on boats and why Van Morrison is his dream collaborator.

What films or television shows have you seen recently?

After seeing Wanted I got incredibly depressed and vowed not to return to the theater until Pineapple Express comes out, so my list is all old stuff: Except Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World.

Other than that, Preston Sturges’ Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Palm Beach Story, and Christmas in July, Lukas Moodysson’s Together, Capra’s Meet John Doe, Cassavetes’ Love Streams, Kon-Tiki the doc made aboard a homemade raft crossing the pacific in 1947, Hawks’ Ball of Fire and this French Medieval Huguenot massacre flick Queen Margot that is totally bonkers. OH! and the fucking The Gravy Train AKA The Dion Brothers was one of the best buddy comedies I’ve ever seen, it was double featured with Tango & Cash in David Gordon Green’s BAM series.

I feel like I’m forgetting some stuff because those movies are all totally fantastic and life hasn’t been that good lately.., oh yeah, I turned off Explicit Ills by Mark Webber, and I hated Antonioni’s The Passenger, that guy’s vibe just rubs me the wrong way, I think he’s totally full of shit.

Which ones stick with you and why?
Together by Lukas Moodyson. He’s my favorite director who is still working and not over the hill. It takes a set of characters surrounding a Swedish hippie commune with a deeply ridiculous outlook on life, and instead of humiliating the characters for laughs, takes their fears their insecurities, and tries to understand them, tries to forgive them their limitations, and succeeds in embracing people that you would otherwise dismiss as bunch of fools. It’s just a beautiful humanist attitude to try to see people in all their complexities, and diversities, and absurdities and embrace them on screen. There’s so much condescension and irony, and emotional distance in what passes for indie movies these days, this movie has none of that. And its funny. And it has a big middle aged woman who is a bombshell.

A bunch of the movies in that list have ladies that stick with me, the ladies in Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Ball of Fire, Meet John Doe, Palm Beach Story, and Love Streams are so far and above anything going on today. Female characters in general have to be the most gaping disparity between life and cinema. Women are amazing, how come not in movies? I’m mean, look around you, women are friends with each other, I can count the number of believable female friendships I’ve seen on screen on one hand, and I’m not talking about that hackneyed faux-feminist Thelma and Louise shit. Minnie and Moskowitz has a great friendship, Days of Heaven has one, Rosie and Madonna in A League of their Own totally make it happen, Fucking Amal by Moodyson has one, and then I draw a blank.

I think the easiest way to make a good film is just to write three dimensional women, you’ll already be way ahead of 98% of movies these days. And it’s not just talking about art films, 10 or 15 years ago, in big movies you had great women, Die Hard, great, Point Break, Aliens, and its not like these ladies are such brilliantly rounded figures, but they at least have some spunk, some personality, a sense of humor, and a degree of humanity to them, unlike the cardboard cut outs they’re serving up today. Even in the better blockbusters, Spiderman, Pirates of the Caribbean, these women are total nonsense, even if you’re just going to write a damsel in distress to motivate your dude hero, you got to give him something to fight for with a little personality.

Does your interest in them have anything to do with your own work as a filmmaker?
Yea, my first two films were animated, and after spending 3 years alone in room with puppets I really wanted to get outside and make something with my friends, with people. I get less and less interested in the bizarre and fantastical and more and more into characters. No movie is good unless you care about the characters, I can’t understand people that make films about people they clearly don’t like or respect. I want to watch directors who love people and who go after emotions, Casavettes and Moodyson are my guys right now. Sturges too, his women are dynamite.

How often do you read fiction? Do you wish you read more?
These days, and whenever I’m between films doing research, I read a lot of non-fiction, these days most especially the Ocean Almanac by Robert Hendrickson which is the world’s absolute finesest collection of sea-lore and sea-knowlege, and a general compendium of the best facts and stories on earth. I would very happily make only movies set on ships, I would have no problem being typecast that way. All I really want to do is live on a boat, filmmaking is just a mean to that end.

What would be your ideal literary adaptation and why?
Moby Dick, without question. But just to go into something a little less public, In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick, it’s written as a story but taken from the actual diaries of one of the sailors on the Essex, which is the maritime disaster that Moby Dick was based on, where a whale rammed a ship repeatedly, sank it, and propelled its passengers into a voyage in row boats back toward South America that ends, as most survival stories tend to, in cannibalism. I’d want to fuse it with some of the lore from the Raft of the Medusa whose story is beyond insane, there are a couple good books about it. Basically, these cowardly fuckers stranded over a 100 people on this tiny raft with barely any food and tons of wine and absolute mayhem ensued. They were there 3 days and only something like 15 people survived, mostly because they all massacred each other in a drunken suicidal rage. I don’t know what gets me about these stories, I guess I feel that a good story is about someone who is really, truly in trouble. When we face the most extreme facets of ourselves at the pivotal moments of our lives. And that they’re on the water.

How, if at all, has reading informed your filmmaking?
Authors are really great to steal from, because they’re really smart and no one reads anymore so you’ll never get caught. I’m sure it does but not sure how, I admire writers and strive and fail to tell stories
with the same kind of power as they do. My favorite writers off the top of my head are Hemingway, Miller, Carver, Melville, Calvino and Faulkner. A bunch of drunken dudes, not sure what that says about me. Oh, and let me recommend What is Not to Love? by Jonathan Ames.

What are you listening to recently?
Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Theater, Kate Bush’s The Dreaming, Richard and Linda Thompson’s I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, Meat Puppets, The Dubliners, The Melvins, ODB and the first Wu Tang Clan album. OH! and Gigi D’Agostino, the genius of Italian dance pop. My next film will feature a ton of his music. Kate Ferencz, Ann Peebles, John Prine’s 1st album, O’Death, Mozart’s Requiem, Rachmaninov piano concerto #3, Skeletonbreath, the Woes, Metallica’s Kill ‘em All. I had this mix when I’d go on 3 day editing sprees that randomized Andrew WK, Creedence, Queen and Meatloaf, that was an incredibly powerful sauce.

If you could collaborate with one musician on a film, who would it be and why?
Van Morrison, I have this dream film where I get Van Morrison to play himself traveling through war-torn NATO strike era Yugoslavia after being shot down in a airplane trying to get to Belgrade where he’s set up his farewell show after seeing a TV spot about a Van Morrison cover band that’s playing “bombing-parties” where all the high school kids go out during air raids, set up speakers somewhere that’s already been hit, get drunk and play “Gloria” and make out. Van, if you’re out there, it’s gonna be a hit.

Hammer to Nail - Glory at Sea Review

Posted byMichael Tully
GLORY AT SEA - Pomp and Transcendence

Every once in a rare, long while, a film appears with such a sweeping gust of rejuvenation that it has the power to restore not only one’s faith in cinema but in humanity as a whole. These miracles—some minor, some major—are truly blessed creations. They exist on a timeless plane, feeling both brand new and classic at the very same time. They are worlds unto themselves, borne out of a passionate vision, torn from the spiritual recesses of an individual’s soul and transferred miraculously onto the big screen. Benh Zeitlin’s Glory at Sea is one of these miracles. If ever a short film deserved to be written about as a feature, Glory at Sea is it. Which is what makes Zeitlin’s epic spectacle even more stunning. By the time the film’s closing credits appear—after just twenty-five minutes—it feels like one has been taken on a deeply lasting feature-length journey.

Conceived and executed by the youthful Court 13 collective—who is also responsible for the award-winning short Death to the Tinman—Glory at Sea ups the ante of Ray Tinori’s stylish, invigorating work (here, Tintori steps into the role of Production Designer) by telling the story of a group of individuals struggling to survive in an apocalyptic post-Katrina New Orleans. Zeitlin’s vision of a dilapidated future feels strangely archaic, as if the storm destroyed the past half-century of technology, instead leaving behind mementos of an earlier era (bathtub, wooden bed, acoustic guitar, trumpet, etc.). The residents in this flooded world have no use for technology, for without electricity, what good is technology? And without their families, what good is anything? Their only desire is to sail into the sea in order to reunite with their loved ones, who are submerged somewhere under all of that water. To do that, they must band together as a community—in the most spiritual sense of that word—and use their own hands to build a boat from scratch. All they’ve got is their undying spirit, hope, and love to keep them going. According to Zeitlin’s unapologetically sincere vision, that’s more than enough.

By all accounts, the production of Glory at Sea was a daring, reckless folly. Much like the world that was being created inside the frame, the filmmakers took a lived-in, hands-on, communal approach to the production. The result is a film that feels as if it’s on the verge of snapping into pieces at any given moment. Every shot is infused with throbbing, manic energy that reflects the “let’s go for it!” state-of-mind of each and every character, filling the screen with a relentless jolt of visceral, propulsive electricity. However, Zeitlin didn’t rest on his film’s visual laurels in capturing that frantic edge-of-the-world spirit. His original score, co-composed with and orchestrated by Dan Romer, sways and swells like the ocean itself, surging from soft, tender moments of smooth, quiet tides to melodic crescendos of forceful, crashing waves. Each of these technical attributes makes Glory at Sea a wonder to behold, but when placed on top of each other, the film becomes almost unbearable in its relentless assault upon the viewer’s emotional senses.

What ultimately makes Glory at Sea a truly landmark achievement—one that should be taught in film schools all across the country from this point forth, in fact—is the economy of its editing and overall pacing (compliments of Zeitlin and Crockett Doob). How often does one watch the work of a confirmed master and wish that master had understood the painful realization that more is not always better. It happens all the time, and yet no one seems to grasp this concept. Yet with Glory at Sea, Zeitlin has delivered a film refreshingly devoid of all filler. When he does slow down, it is only for a very brief moment, to let the worried preacher take stock of the collapsing world around him. Zeitlin certainly had more footage to incorporate, but adding exposition would have done nothing to add greater weight to the film’s overall impact. In this case, it might have detracted. If executed properly, one shot can express the thoughts and emotions of five or six. Glory at Sea is compiled of these singular moments, in which each and every shot carries the dramatic weight of several scenes. (Note: I am writing this after having watched the film almost ten times; on an initial solitary viewing the daring narrative presentation might feel jarring and oblique, but I have always been of the belief that one should watch their favorite films as often as they listen to their favorite records.)

If all of this mythical production lore and staggering technical proficiency were in the service of a lesser cause, Glory at Sea would still be required viewing. But the fact that Zeitlin has a deeply spiritual purpose is what makes it an absolute must-see. While the film is first and foremost about New Orleans, celebrating the undying spirit of that city and its people, it also succeeds as a universally uplifting tale about humanity on a grander scale. Glory at Sea celebrates hope and community and love in a world that is cruel and indifferent. To survive we must all stick together, we must love one another, we must believe. Without those grand human forces at work, we’ll never make it to the bottom of the sea to hug our loved ones once again.

— Michael Tully

SpoutBlog - Glory at Sea Review

SXSW 2008: Glory At Sea
By David Lowery

I’ve long been of the opinion that films should not be defined by their running time. Terms like ’short’ and ‘feature’ are handy for categorical purposes but have otherwise become unfairly exclusive, creating betwixt them a no-man’s land in which few filmmakers dare tread. I’ve heard enticing rumors of a theater in Paris that showcases films between forty five and sixty minutes and length, and I always admire those filmmakers that go against the advice of festival programmers who suggest that unless a short film is really, really great it shouldn’t run much longer than 10 minutes - just as I admire the programmers who select the 25 and 30 minute shorts that are, indeed, really really great, just like the 5 minute shorts they might be screening alongside of. It’s quality, not quantity, and I don’t care about the latter when there’s an abundance of the former. Suffice to say, I really love short form filmmaking, and I always make it a point at festivals to catch all of the short programs. I’ll be covering some of my favorite short selections from this year’s 2008 SXSW Film Festival in an upcoming article, but there was one film in particular that I felt warranted its own review.

If you were at SXSW this past week, you may have heard rumors about Glory At Sea, whose production and premiere both are almost as epic as the film itself. Directed by Ben Zeitlin and produced by the same folks behind last year’s festival favorite Death To Tinman, the film is a fable of such exorbitantly epic proportions that it could only be described as Herzogian. “Fitzcarraldo!” shouted one audience member, apparently too bowled over by the film to express himself in the form of a question, during the post-screening Q&A. Given that the film took six months to shoot (many of those spent out on open water), its Sisyphean qualities correlate quite well with Herzog’s effort. At the same time, Zeitlin’s vision seems quite a few degrees more ambitious - and even moreso removed from reality - than anything Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald might have dreamed up.

Set on the coast of an antediluvian New Orleans and narrated from the bottom of the ocean by a dead little girl, the film tells the tale of a group of shellshocked residents who rediscover a sense of hope after a man thought lost to the storm washes ashore and immediately sets about constructing a raft, with which he might return to sea on an Orphic quest to find his waterlogged love. For reasons as elemental as they are inexplicable, the townspeople decide to join him in this effort, and together they turn his driftwood dinghy into a grand patchwork vessel, hewn together out of old memories and keepsakes: a rusty automobile, a janky upright piano. A bathtub and a bed. Hints at former lives laid to waste by the hand of God. A new community forms there on the beach. Everyone brings something, everyone does their part, including the local preacher, who joins the crew after his church is accidentally torched during a rather Dionysian Mardi Gras parade.

At least, I think its the church that burns down; the film is so jam packed with incident that it occasionally steps on its own toes. I’ve seen it twice now and I’m still not sure what’s happening at a few points. That was also a problem in Death To Tinman, whose narrative form viewers may recognize here. Tinman’s director, Ray Tintori, produced this one, and helped write the story (in addition to providing production design). The hyperbolic storytelling, the flatly declarative dialog and madcap pace are the same, as is the ever insistent score, but gone is the absurdist irony and emotional detachment. Zeitlin’s after something bigger. This is a grand romance, an allegory, a story about, yes, post-Katrina New Orleans. Above all, this is a cinematic experience explicitly designed to move audiences, and as such it is explicitly, overtly manipulative; every little detail is designed to evoke a response; the strings always swell at all the right moments. It’ll hardly leave a dry eye in the house, and I’d cry foul if the filmmakers hadn’t achieved something so truly bizarre with their formal choices: because the film is what it is, and because it’s all crammed into a 25 minute running time, being bombastic and grandiose with every emotional gesture isn’t just appropriate but pretty much necessary. This isn’t traditional narrative. It’s an ancient myth racing at breakneck speeds to catch-up with the times.

All of this sound and fury didn’t win Glory At Sea the grand jury prize for short film at SXSW, and I actually think that’s appropriate. Those films that did win (more on them soon) are excellent works, and it’s hard to argue that they aren’t more mature or formally sound. Indeed, they’ve got just as much going on as Zeitlin’s film, but it’s all restrained beneath the surface. But I think Glory At Sea, for sheer ambition, deserved an award all its own, and that’s pretty much what it got: Brent Hoff and Emily Doe presented it with the Wholphin award for Best Short. As they announced the prize, Doe and Hoff stated that it was going to a film that demonstrated everything a short film can be. The key word is can; a short film doesn’t have to go this far to be great, nor should it. But it is possible, and Zeitlin and his cast and crew did it, and I’ll be darned if I’ve ever seen a film of any length with the same scope as this one. It may be less than half an hour, but it’s just as much a feature as anything else at the festival.

Now, I mentioned that the premiere here in Austin last Sunday had its own shares of ups and downs; word trickled out after the screening, and soon the film festival was abuzz with what had happened: it was a massively successful first screening, marred only by the fact that Zeitlin wasn’t actually there for it. He was in transit to the theater when he was involved in a terrible car accident that sent him straight to the hospital with a shattered pelvis. He’s been waylaid there all week, missing both his screenings and the award ceremony. Rooftop Films, which helped finance the picture, has set up a page with information on how to assist Zeitlin with his suddenly mounting medical bills. Benefit screenings are being set up in New York and Austin, and donations are being accepted. Help him out, so he can put that money towards making another film. Of whatever length.

Need to Vent - Glory at Sea review

Review by Robert A. Nowotny ---

The previous accomplishments of the Court 13 coterie are well known to anyone who follows the short film genre. EGG, DEATH TO THE TINMAN, THE ORIGINS OF ELECTRICITY and JETTISON YOUR LOVED ONES are among the best shorts produced over the past few years, and so GLORY AT SEA!, the latest production to come from Benh Zeitlin, Par Parekh, Ray Tintori et al, was highly anticipated. The wait was well worth it.

This cinematic jambalaya which explores post–Katrina New Orleans is so emotionally riveting, so inspirational and so lovingly crafted you will never forget the viewing experience. Never. Like Katrina, GLORY AT SEA! is a Category 5 event by all standards imaginable.

The brilliant screenplay by writer/director Zeitlin is loosely based on the Orpheus myth, although in this case Hades is an underwater hell, not a flaming inferno. The horrific tragedy experienced by the residents of the Crescent City could not be more vividly portrayed than by seeing the condemned souls of those who perished now planted at the bottom of the ocean, much like undersea corn stalks, each alone, lost, without hope. However, one of these Katrina victims doesn't belong here, yet, as he still has the slightest bit of life beating within. He is jettisoned from this watery grave only to find a dystopic landscape of equally lonely and lost, but living, souls. As this lone underwater survivor begins to build a raft he is joined by a cadre of other survivors, each desperately seeking some sense of reunion with their departed loved ones. Eventually the makeshift raft is completed and it sets sail. What happens next is not going to be divulged here; simply put, it is something every reader of this review must personally see and experience for themselves.

Virtually all of the actors were actual survivors of Hurricane Katrina with little or no acting experience. All are absolutely wonderful, and many of the scenes and props and accoutrements found in GLORY AT SEA! were brought to the film as the result of their personal Katrina experiences, lending a realism and a poignancy that is impossible to forget. As for the film itself, Dan Janvey, Josh Penn and “Producer Par Excellence” Parekh have pulled off what appears to be the impossible. This was a tremendously ambitious undertaking and the production values are impeccable. Editing, cinematography, production design, music — the list goes on and on. Collectively, every facet of the filmmaking process is so well done that GLORY AT SEA! will undoubtedly raise the standard by which all future short films will surely be judged.

This is high praise — high praise, indeed — and it is 100% deserved.

Some years ago Francis Ford Coppola was asked who the next notable American filmmaker might be. His response: “Probably some little fat girl from Ohio.” We still await the arrival of Coppola's little Buckeye; in the meantime, one can surely look to Zeitlin and Parekh and the rest of the Court 13 International personnel based in New Orleans (and elsewhere) to rightfully take their place among the next great generation of filmmakers on the horizon.

Let the good times roll…

Rooftop Films - Glory at Sea wins Wholphin Award


Like the film itself, this story has (in its own way) a happy ending. As you probably read in my other posts below, Benh Zeitlin--the director of "Glory at Sea," a miraculous short film that Rooftop co-funded--was in a brutal car accident the day of his first screening at SXSW. He's doing much better now, with his metal hip, painkillers, and tremendous set of friends and supporters. Contrary to a popular rumor, the infamous welder-turned-actor who plays Sergeant Major in the film, Jimmy Lee Moore, did NOT perform Benh's operation.

Although Benh wasn't able to attend the first two screenings of his film, he may actually be able to get to the Friday March 14 show at 2:30pm (so go join him if you can for what promises to be a very emotional screening). And so, laid up in a hospital bed, the festival has come to him.

Many filmmakers sent along copies of their films so Benh could watch them in his hospital bed (holding his laptop inches from his face as he awaits new eyeglasses to replace the ones lost in the car). Many more people cheered on the film and sent their well wishes. I know Benh would like to pass on his thanks to all of you.

And last night, "Glory at Sea" took home the SXSW Wolphin Award for Best Short Film.

Brent Hoff and Emily Doe from Wholphin, the excellent DVD magazine that is part of the beneficient McSweeney's empire, presented the award to "Glory" producers Josh Penn, Dan Janvey, and Par Parekh. Fittingly for such a funky, underwater film, and for a DVD zine named for a cross between a whale and a dolphin, the award itself was a pinky-sized vial containing a tiny squid, found some 6,000 feet beneath the sea by an official Wolphin oceanographer.

Immediately following the awards ceremony, I went with about 20 people to visit Benh and celebrate. He was moved and delighted and proud, and really loving the symbolism of this tiny dead creature pulled from the depths of the sea.

Facts about the accident, car insurance and medical bills are still sketchy, but plans for celebration / benefit screenings in Austin and New York are in the works.


"Glory at Sea!" plays at SXSW in the Shorts 3 program on March 9, 11th and 14th, at the Alamo Lamar Cinemas.

In the guidelines to the Rooftop Filmmakers' Fund--the grants that Rooftop offers to filmmakers whose work has screened with us--we say "We are more likely to fund films that make the most of their resources and community." We don't have the means to fund big-budget films, so we want to help support filmmakers who are clever and collaborative, and show that they uphold the collective ideals of Rooftop Films.

Last night, I was in New Orleans for the cast and crew screening of "Glory at Sea!," a short film which Rooftop co-funded. The movie is based on the myth of Orpheus, and in this version a man who washes to sea aims to sail back to the underwater Hades that has taken his girlfriend. While he builds a raft, the community watches, and becomes interested, and finally rushes to his aid, carrying with them the busted and rusted icons of their lives--all that remains of their husbands and wives, children and parents--strapping to the boat trumpets and bathtubs, charred church crosses and unspooled mix tapes, in the Bayou-inspired voodoo-like belief that these talismans will lead them to their drowned loved ones. The rickety craft sets sail with a song (fitting for Orpheus and Orleans), and the crew finds salvation in sinking.

The film is an irrational fable, a rich and poetic impossibility, and it gains its power from its myth logic. In dream logic, you do something crazy and need to look at the subtext to understand why. But in myth logic, you do something crazy because you have the tenuous belief that it will help. "Glory at Sea!" captures that pathos perfectly: the filmmaking is stirred with music video madness as it strains at the conventions of traditional narrative filmmaking. The film invokes this need for a community to bond--not a logical need, based on survival or chances of success, but an inherent need which transcends logic and gets to the core of who we are as people, as neighbors, as people who need each other in life and in death. In post-Katrina New Orleans, where all everyone has left is water-soaked memories of missing persons, "Glory at Sea!" is the perfect parable.

The director Benh Zeitlin choked up when he welcomed the crowd, saying that "making this film was the greatest experience of my life, and it's thanks to so many of the people in this room, who bled rust for this movie."

There were 300 people there.

300 people in support of a short film!

They volunteered their time. They lent their own heartbreak to the telling. They literally risked their lives riding this home-made raft out onto Lake Pontchartrain. One guy, Jimmy Lee Moore, a local guy who was cast as an actor, ended up doing much of the complicated welding on the boat. I spoke to him after the premiere, and he was beaming with pride. He told me about how the Coast Guard didn't think the craft was sea-worthy, and no one would take responsibility for towing it out onto the water. But they hooked it up a speedboat, and tore the tail off it in the process, because they had no other option, and for days on end the actors and crew were doing things no one in their right mind would do, all for this film. Now Jimmy wants to modify the boat and make it a Mardi Gras float, to represent the film, and New Orleans independent filmmakers, and the spirit of this project.

Benh was originally going to make this mythical film in Greece, but he told me that when he received funding from Rooftop--where the money comes from ticket sales and submission fees, the fans and filmmakers who make up our community--he knew he had to make a populist film, and that it had to be in New Orleans. Seeing not only the power of the film, but the glorious power of the community that made it, I can't express how proud I am, on behalf of all of us at Rooftop Films, to have had a small part in such an inspiring project.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Grand Opening

The court 13 news feed is now open.